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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Cresencia Montelongo reads to her 3-year-old daughter Alexandra during the Early Childhood Learning and Literacy Summit Wednesday at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Seuss was a common denominator for many of the 500 people who flocked to a special mayor's event Wednesday that included the kickoff of Deseret Management Corp.'s literacy program.

Monzerath Montelongo, a fourth-grader at Mountain View Elementary School, cited Seuss as her favorite author, as did other children and adults alike. "I like his rhyming," she said.

"The more you read, the more stuff you learn," Monzerath added.

The 10-year-old's words tie directly into the mission of Deseret Management's freshly formed literacy initiative, "Read Today." Its goal is to enhance and increase awareness of already existing literacy programs in schools and the community.

Wednesday's activities at Glendale Middle School were the first of many community events with the goal of encouraging parents and educators to help kids learn to read.

"Our main mission is to help kids acquire the basic learning skill of reading, which is the foundation for every other skill they will need," said Mark Willes, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corp.

Deseret Management's Deseret Media Companies are Deseret News, KSL Television and Radio, Deseret Book and Deseret Digital Media.

The literacy initiative kickoff was presented as part of the "Mayor's Education Summit," since community leaders are on board with the goal of helping children read.

Joanne Milner, education partnership coordinator for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's office, was instrumental in making Wednesday night's event happen. Becker greeted area dignitaries during a formal reception preceding the main event. "Education is essential to a successful community," Becker said.

Salt Lake School District Superintendent McKell Withers said literacy and numeracy alike are skills people need in order to be successful in school and life.

"We want to help people be aware of the need to have kids literate by the third grade," Withers said. "Up to third grade, you learn how to read, and then from third grade on, reading helps you learn everything else."

In an effort to help parents get enthusiastic about reading to their kids, families attending Wednesday's event visited a dozen booths touting free books and reading materials. One booth invited people to vote on where a new branch library could be built in the Glendale area and gathered input on what the public would like to see offered at the library.

Parent Heather Legler said she and her husband are both avid readers, which sets an example for their kids. "We go to the library often," she said.

Families participated in crafts, such as those at one table set up by Discovery Gateway children's museum, where kids created caterpillars by gluing pompoms together.

Parent Sandra Warrick said, "Reading helps the kids be ready to start school."

Sitting in the school's library, PTA moms Joyce Muhlestein and Bridgette Barrowes discussed the benefits of literacy.

Reading is a foundation for life — for everything a child does, said Muhlestein, who is the state PTA partnership appointee and also works for the Utah Family Information and Resource Center doing literacy programs.

Muhlestein has a penchant for Mother Goose nursery rhymes. "It's fun to have your children just fall in love with the words," she said.

Barrowes, PTA director for Region 4, which is in Salt Lake School District, said her children love Dr. Seuss. "He's a great children's writer — one of the best," she said.

Deseret Management Corp. is working on launching a website that will unite community efforts and announce literacy events.

For now, click here for more information on Read Today.

e-mail: astewart@desnews.com